There is a growing recognition that, like humans, animals show consistent variation in behaviour among individuals, often described as ‘personality’. Factors driving these behavioural differences could be environmental (e.g. habitat, predation pressure or social environment) or intrinsic (e.g. physiological differences). In wildlife populations, ‘shyness’ has been observed in individuals living in high-risk environments, while individuals at invasion fronts often exhibit increased aggression, activity and boldness.

This individual heterogeneity can have important consequences for population-level processes and ecological interactions. It can determine, for example, how populations respond to disturbance, the success of reintroductions for endangered species, or the harvesting and control of wildlife populations.

This project will develop new mathematical models to explore (1) how consistent inter-individual heterogeneity in behaviour, i.e. different ‘personalities’, affects the emergent behaviour of a population, (2) the role of social interactions in driving behavioural differences, and 3) what effect the timescale over which a personality is consistently observed (e.g. a few days or an entire lifetime) has for the population dynamics. Throughout the project, the student will work with researchers with expertise in ecology and biology to apply these models to real ecological datasets for particular case studies.

The project will be part of Te Pūnaha Matatini, a New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for complex systems and networks. The student will be based in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Canterbury under the supervision of Dr Rachelle Binny (Landcare Research), Associate Professor Michael Plank, Associate Professor Alex James (University of Canterbury) and Associate Professor Isabel Castro (Massey University).

Applicants should have a strong numerate background (e.g. first degree in mathematics, statistics, physics, computer science or engineering) and an interest in biology, and satisfy the University of Canterbury’s entry requirements for PhD study. However, candidates with a background in ecology or biology may be considered provided they have sufficient skills in mathematics, statistics or computer science. Experience working with ecological datasets will also be useful.

Total value
The three-year scholarship covers PhD tuition fees for a domestic or international student plus a non-taxed living allowance of NZ$27,300 per annum. The starting date can be anytime between 1 November 2017 and 1 March 2018.

How to apply
For further information and to apply, please contact:
Dr Rachelle Binny
Landcare Research
New Zealand


Associate Professor Michael Plank
School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Canterbury
New Zealand